Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Rules of Engagement V: The Problem

I took off on a series of posts about Rules of Engagement (I, II, III, and IV). The second case study mentioned in Part III (the Oscar Grant trial) just ended in an acquittal, leading to riots in Oakland.

The underlying problem with the Rules of Engagement is basically summed up in this email to Andrew Sullivan:
Something to keep in mind is that police officers are required to walk into and to participate in events from which the rest of us are entitled - and even advised - to shy away.

That fact, I think, is part of the reason why police officers are less likely to be convicted for shootings for which they would be punished if they were not police officers. I'm not chasing after a guy identified by a bloodied victim as having raped her; I'm not supposed to confront him, to physically subdue him and to take him into custody.

If I think a guy has a gun - just "think" he does - I can run away. But since I wasn't running after him in the first place I'm not that likely to be present when he pulls out what I think is a gun. And I certainly don't have to keep going toward him so that I can capture and subdue him.

Police officers get a break on their decisions to use force because they have to actually make decisions; the rest of us don't.
The idea that we can't pass judgment over police officers based on how they decide to use force negates the whole reason why we limited who can use first in the first place. We -- the public, even those of us who don't make regular personal decisions about the use of force -- need to be in the reigns of the discussion of how force is used.

For instance, imagine if we held that same standard for the macro-case of the use of force: the military. The whole point of "civillian control of the military" is to give those who are not war-makers control over war.

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